|Oh look, a stupidly tall thing. Let's go climb it!|
For our last full day on the island of St. Kitts we did want to SEE a bit of the island. More than we had walking around the cruise ship mall and the fairly empty South end of the island looking for monkeys.
In truth there is enough on St. Kitts to amuse for quite some time – rain forest, volcanoes, snorkeling, and so on. But we had one day so we thought we’d go visit the famous for on top of Brimstone Hill.
Being cruisers, we are generally to
Taxi Guy #23 of the day: “Taxi back to de ship, sir?”
Me: “Not unless your taxi can drive out to the anchorage there…”
I do try to be polite, but it IS trying every ten steps in a cruise ship town! Part of my problem I think is that I suspect that I still try to dress reputably, so in fact I do tend to look like a cruise ship passenger, rather than a shiftless drifter without an East Caribbean Dollar to pay for anything. Concern over alarming the local gendarmes has precluded any more experimenting in this line…but I digress.
We decided to take a local bus to the fort rather than the taxi. The reasoning is easy – it costs about EC$ 3.50 per person to take the bus. One U.S. dollar is about $2.70, so one EC$ is about 37 cents – making the cost of the bus about $1.30 per person each way. A taxi on the other hand would likely cost us $30-$40 each way for the four of us. So EC$ 28.00 (about $10.50) versus $60-$80 USD. You can see how this is a no brainer.
The “buses” in much of the Caribbean are quite different than those we might be used to in the U.S. First of all the buses are not really run by the government. They may be regulated, but the buses themselves are frequently privately owned by a local entrepreneur or company. These buses tend to have routes, but not schedules, per se. The implication here is that while you do know where the bus will take you, you don’t always know exactly when it will come. So you need to leave a little time. Finally, they are frequently a bit informal in terms of vehicle standards, stops, and packing people in to the bus. You can often grab a seat riding shotgun to the driver, however if you aren’t used to driving at high speeds on narrow roads on the wrong side of the road this view may not be for the faint of heart.
Of course the other disadvantage of a bus is that it doesn’t always drop you in front of the place you want to go. In St. Thomas, for $20 each way (plus tip) we took a cab out to the Home Depot and were dropped off and picked up at the store. Later we went to see The Hobbit at the movie theater which is in the same complex as the Home Depot – it cost us $8.00 round trip for the whole family of four on a trip that would have cost us $10/person if we took a cab from our anchorage in Red Hook. However we were dropped on the road at the base of the shopping center, we had to make a short walk up to where the theater was. Big deal, for $72 I can walk a little.
My first tip something was amiss was when I asked the bus driver “Does this go to the fort” he gave me an odd look and asked “Where?” Eventually he figured out what I was asking about and confirmed the destination. So we boarded the small red bus and off we went. Given the private nature of the bus ownership, it’s driver’s choice on the environment…music, etc. In this case we were on the Loud Rasta Bus, which was fine with us because we like Reggae even if it was at teeth jarring volume. But it worked, zooming along on narrow roads, dodging other vehicles, parked buses, goats, and so on as the reggae thumped and boomed. We had some small concern because there were no little “stop request” buttons, we soon learned you indicated your stop simply by bellowing at the driver that you needed to get off. Since we didn’t know exactly where we were going we had to keep a sharp eye and be ready to yell at any moment.
|Cistern and magazine|
Oh yes, we saw the huge sign for it with an arrow saying “Entrance, 1/2 Mile”. 1/2 Mile…up? You can barely see the fort from the road up close, it is so far up. None of us prepped for another Volcano Climb – we didn’t have water bottles, hiking boots, moisture wicking undergarments and other necessities for a schlep through the jungle up a hill. And IT WAS PAST LUNCH TIME.
But we were game. We started walking up. And walking. And talking some more about St. Kitts, and how cool it was to see monkeys and how we weren’t likely to see any more since the monkeys on the North end of the island were supposed to be more shy and we were right on a road
HEY LOOK A MONKEY!!!
Yeah, we got so see some more monkeys on the way up. And up. We were passed by several cars going up and down, mostly taxis, and I knew the drivers were sniggering to themselves about the too-cheap tourists that took the bus and had to hump it up to the top of the fort.
Eventually we did make it to the top, and immediately stopped at the surprisingly good snack bar for a spot of lunch with spectacular views.
This is actually a very, very impressive fort. We’ve stopped at more than a couple of places like this since we started travelling – this place made Fort Louis on St. Martin look like something that was build out of couch cushions in a living room. Small wonder it became known as the “Gibraltar of the Caribbean”.
Fort George (as we learned it was called, not “Fort Brimstone”) could house over 800 soldiers and families as well as the craftsmen and support people needed to keep them ready. Cannon and gun emplacements offered a 360 degree field of fire. Though the guns back in the 18th century didn’t have spectacular range, add a thousand feet UP to the equation and you get a bit more reach. And we weren’t sure that a warship from that era could even tilt their deck guns up high enough to get a shot into the fort while all this misery was raining down on them.
The engineering to create this large structure several hundred years ago was quite impressive. A rain catchment system led to cisterns that could hold 250,000 gallons of water for the soldiers. There were parade grounds, magazines, bakeries, plumbing, and support facilities. Just to meet the daily ration of flour for the soldiers that bakery would have to put out over 800 pounds of bread per day.
One can not overemphasize how stunning the views are. The soldiers in this fort would never be surprised by an approaching vessel – the line of sight took in Saba, Statia, St. Martin, Guadalupe and Montserrat. We figure the only way to attack the fort was with troops landed on a moonless night or in the blinding rain. You can see for miles and miles…
A big shout out goes to the people at the Brimstone Fortress National Park. They did an excellent job recovering this historical site after it was abandoned and neglected for half a century, and have developed sme informative and interesting exhibits in the fort that give you a good picture of the histor of St. Kitts as well as the ecology.
Once again, it was worth the hike to the top. The walk down seemed a lot shorter, as Will commented “I didn’t notice it was this pretty on the way up”. I guess because were all heads down sweating and puffing up the hill. At the bottom of the hill we had but a short wait for the Loud Rasta Bus to pick us up on the way back.
Oh yeah…and we saw more monkeys on the way down.